When I first graduated from University, I landed a job that took me across the country to a city that I knew little about. I worked at an office near City Hall in a relatively large city that had a lot of “character“ in its downtown core. At around noon every day, I would kick my heels off, slip on my flip flops and take my lunch and my book over to a nearby coffee shop to enjoy some me time. Quite often, this was the best part of my day - when I could sit down, relax, and just be quiet for an hour without having to speak, or listen to anyone at all.
That was, until I met June.
June wasn't just an ordinary woman. She was very special, and very unique. She had dark brown hair, sprinkled with streaks of grey, and her face looked worn and full of wrinkles. Her eyes looked angry most days, and suggested she was often exhausted. She wore a big brown floor-length fur coat at all times, even in sweltering hot 36 degree weather. Though we didn't get into many discussions about our personal details, I would guess that she was in her late fifties.
June always traveled alone, and she was very well known around the downtown core. The one very interesting trait about June was that everyone knew what she was thinking - because she said every single thing that came to her mind, out loud. She talked all the time and told you straight to your face how she felt. Key thing to understand about June is that she never talked to you, she talked at you. She didn't want to share a conversation with anyone, she just lacked the filter that kept her thoughts inside of her head.
Most days, I would be sitting at a table enjoying my lunch and reading a book when I'd see June mosey on in. She'd take a seat at the table beside me, and pull out her reading material, quite often a grocery store flyer, and proceed to tell everyone in the coffee shop to shut up cause she was trying to read. Sometimes she would start talking about her past - which was heart-breakingly violent and abusive, and other times she would look at my book and start discussing the title, or let me know it looked like a stupid book. One time, she felt the need to let my co-worker know her boots looked fat.
On separate occasions, I would see June holding tin foil up to the sky in broad daylight, walking down the sidewalk, and other days I would run into her at another coffee shop called, "Johnny's". I would see her sitting in a seat in the back corner, fur coat on and all, sipping a glass of water. On her way out, she would tell the barista, "Johnny, time to clean these glasses - this one looks filthy!" Or, "Johnny, this water is too warm - where's the ice cubes?!" It is important to note that these were two different baristas, and neither of their names were Johnny. It would appear that she assumed everyone who worked their must share the name of the quaint coffee shop.
Some people would look at June oddly, but she never seemed to bother anyone - even if she was directly insulting you, which let's be honest, was quite often. I recall one afternoon, status quo, reading my book, aware of June's gaze, and out of the corner of my eye, I watched her lean over to the four men sitting at the table beside her, eyes never leaving mine, outstretch one long slender finger towards my direction and yell out, "Hey Boys! Get a load o' this one's fake tits!"
As the group of men were caught off guard, bursting into a fit of laughter, two thoughts entered my mind. The first was, June - wtf? These are not fake. The second was, how liberating must it feel, to say and do exactly what you feel, at all times, without constantly worrying and stressing about the judgment from others?
Our true being is who we are when we free ourselves of any judgements from other people. It is who we are when we release any preconceived notions about who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to act, and what we are supposed to say.
I have heard the advice, "Just be yourself" more times in my life than I can care to admit. I think it is one of those 'easier said, than done' things. You hear it from your parents, your teachers, your friends, your books, people on tv and many other communication streams out in the world. What people typically forget to include with that advice, is the how.
How easy is it to actually be yourself, and how do you go about doing it?
In my quest to find these answers, I have stumbled across three ways that have allowed me to practice how to be myself, when faced with the ever-challenging fork in the road of what you personally want to do, and what you think others want you to do
1. Spend some time getting to know you
Anyone that really knows me, knows that I can be a bit of a hermit at times. I spend most weekends on my own in coffee shops or in restaurants grabbing a bite and reading my book or exploring various 'cute' neighbourhoods and markets. I even take in a movie on my own at times, as well as make time for at least one annual trip or vacation by myself. I find that when I schedule in some “non-negotiable Sarah time” that’s when I learn most about myself, when I’m able to fully relax and recharge and it also generates my most creative thoughts and ideas. So often, we put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to find careers, relationships and lifestyles without really giving ourself time to fully understand who we truly are and what would actually make us happy.
2. Do whatever brings you joy
Continue on that previous topic of hanging out by myself (all of the time) I am typically met with the same blank stare or quizzical expression - "You go out to eat, by yourself? Oh, I wouldn’t do that - people would think I’m a loner.” Or, “You travel by yourself? Oh I would get so bored, I could never do that.” Well, you could, you just choose not to. Instead of focusing on what other people might be thinking about you, (I can assure you by the way, they likely aren’t thinking about you at all) just ask yourself, am I really going to live my life, based on what other people categorize as cool or normal?
Don't suppress the real you and play a role that society has deemed is normal. If you are ever in a situation where people are asking you to hang out or do something that you don't feel like doing, just ask yourself, "Would this bring me joy?" and if it doesn't, don't do it. Your future self will thank you for not wasting your own time.
3. Be more like a child
The beautiful thing about children is when they are born into this world, they are as authentic as you can get. That’s because they don’t care about what other's are thinking about them, who is judging them, or what they should be doing based on society’s expectations. If they feel like doing something, they do it. If a child wants to scream, laugh, or pee in a sandbox, they make it happen. They aren't thinking to themselves, oh my gosh, I wonder what little Timmy next door would think about me peeing in the sandbox. I wonder if he’s judging me and telling all the other kids at the park that I pee in sandboxes. I bet no one is going to hang out with me in the sandbox anymore.
Timmy’s actually the furthest thing from that child’s mind. They are 100% authentic and present in each moment. They don’t feel anxious about all of the tasks they have to do in the future, or waste anytime feeling regretful or guilty of choices or actions they made in the past.
4. Become more mindful of your thoughts
Your thoughts are one of the strongest influences in your life, and quite often are the most toxic. You would be surprised at how quickly our reality can begin to take shape based on our conditioned thought patterns. Especially in my late teens and early twenties, I based all of my decisions on what others would be thinking of me. What would be cool and accepted. As I got older, I realized that most of those people weren't thinking about if I was cool or not, in fact, they probably weren't thinking about me at all. I realized I became a person that I thought others would accept, instead of just being myself, and becoming the person I wanted to be.
Take my website for example. When I first started blogging, I got really excited, and then I got really nervous about what everyone would be thinking of me. I started telling myself that no one would read my posts, everyone would think I was a loser and writing them would be a waste of my time. Similar to every other independent and responsible 27 year old woman, I called my dad up to get his advice. I asked if he thought anyone would read them, assuming he would give me the supportive, optimistic, "Absolutely, everyone will LOVE them!” answer I was looking for. His response surprised me.
"I have no clue if anyone will read them, Sarah - there’s a possibility no one will, but write for yourself, not for other people".
Though I still experience those feelings every time I launch, write, or create something new - I now am very aware of the negative thought patterns that enter my mind, and focus on the bigger picture and why I do what I do, instead. If it aligns with my message and values, and will make an impact in the lives of others, I move forward regardless of any fear that presents itself. Begin to do a “thought scan” at the end of every day. Consider everything that you did do, and what you held yourself back from, based on these thoughts. Become aware of what is preventing you from being your true and authentic self and becoming the person that you most want to be? What is stopping you from following the type of life you want to lead? What opportunities are you missing out on, by listening to your inner critic?
5. Think to yourself: WWJD?
If you are still struggling with allowing yourself to fully present and do the things in life that you most like to do, I encourage you to ask yourself: ”WWJD?” (What Would June Do?) and think back to the lady in the fur coat waiving her tin foil in the air like she just don't care, and hopefully that will remind you that life is just a bit too short to not be yourself.